Tampa Bay Rays

Holier Than Thou

I’m a pretty fortunate chick that I can travel around to visit ballparks around the country. At current count, I’ve seen Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, CitiField, Citizens Bank Park, PNC Park, Nationals Park, Camden Yards, Tropicana Field, Wrigley Field, Miller Park, US Cellular Field, Ballpark at Arlington, Dodger Stadium, AT&T Park, Petco Park, Angel Stadium and Rogers “I’m Calling it SkyDome” Centre. (I’ve also seen three stadiums no longer with us: Shea, the “first” Yankee and The Vet in Philly).

I’ve met some shitty fans (San Francisco was by far one of the worst fan bases I’ve ever come in contact with), fans who couldn’t care less and probably have a better reputation than they should (like Toronto), and some fanbases that get a bad rap that actually I didn’t get to see (like Dodger fans). I’ve seen what bad finances can do to a fan base (like mine), and I can see what happens when ownership gets in its own way (like Miami or Baltimore).  I’ve seen what happens when a team gets good and all of a sudden “lifelong fans” come out of the woodwork.

I’m all too familiar with that last part. I’ve seen it happen with my own fan base, especially in 2006. EVERYONE wanted to be in on the fun. Then again, I’ve always said that the best times to be a Mets fan would be during the down years anyway.

I digress.

The playoffs brings out the worst in every fan base, I believe. The worst of the bandwagoners.

But the whole “he who is without sin” and “casting the first stone” has come out in full force, probably more than ever, during these baseball playoff series.

And mostly, I find that Yankee fans in my feed are casting those stones.

This is not meant to be an attack on Yankee Nation or their fans. I have a great amount of people in my Twitter feed and in my real life whom I consider good friends who are Yankee fans. These are FANS not in quotation marks, but people who live and die by the team. I get that there is a lot of history and passion related to the topic. These aren’t the people I have a problem with. In fact, they’re the people who I feel are the most level-headed.

I find the whole topic of “fairweather fans” in the playoffs kind of funny.  I mean, Yankee fans should speak from experience.  I should know: I am a Mets fan who has rooted for the blue and orange, lived and died with them since I was seven years old.  Yet, over the years, with the peaks and valleys with how poor the team has been run, I’ve seen my share of people who show up only when they are good.

Yet there is a population of people who just stop going to games.  Why spend money on a product that is faulty?  I can certainly see the validity to that statement.  What I hated though was going from 2004, where the real fans were still showing up, drinking beer and talking about trades that would never happen, to 2006, when people said, “Oh I like this Mets team better than the Yankees, so I’m gonna root for them.”  No.  Seriously.  SOMEONE SAID THIS TO ME.  I don’t remember if I said anything back because, well, I just couldn’t believe someone would admit it to me.

I have family members who claim to be lifelong Yankee fans, but I can put an asterisk *since 1996 next to their fandom, since we sat in front of the TV and rooted for the Mets in the ’80s.  I wish I could have it that easy.  Just start rooting for another team without a conscience.

Like I said, this isn’t meant to be a rant against Yankee fans.  I just find it mildly ironic (okay – HELLA ironic) that their fans would call out Orioles fans for “just showing up” now.

Here are some things I’ve taken into consideration about this year’s playoffs.

One is, I go to probably more Orioles games than any others outside of my own team’s.  It’s mostly a geographic necessity.  I’m certainly not going to go to a game in Philadelphia for the hell of it.  Same for the Bronx.  I hate Boston, and DC and I don’t mix.  But I like Baltimore.  It’s a quick bus ride for me.  I can find cheap accommodations, and food is really really good there.  And if there is a game going on when I happen to be there, you better be certain I’m going to attend.  (There’s also this little obsession I have with a guy named Cal Ripken). I may be a little biased for their fans but that’s because I interact with many of them in a given time frame.

Two is, take into consideration economic factors.  Typically, if a region is hurting or there is less discretionary income going somewhere, chances are baseball games will get hit.  I have a family member who admitted he stopped going to games because it wasn’t economically feasible this year.  I can understand that. For what it’s worth too, the Mets have taken note of this phenomenon and at least have tried to make it more appealing for families to come to the ballpark.  My husband and I don’t have children.  We like baseball.  We make it a priority to attend.  Therefore, we make it a factor for us.  That and road trips.

But that’s just the thing.  I feel like the road trips I go on make me maybe a little conscious of what’s going on in outside markets.  True, New York is expensive, but so is the cost of living and generally prices and incomes are in line with that.  Take into consideration Los Angeles, when I went to a game when the Dodgers were actually good, and I could get a seat in the Loge level for TWELVE DOLLARS on Stubhub.  I could go to the Cell in Chicago’s South Side and spend less than $30 for two tickets for a team that gets a good draw in the upper deck in the secondary market (lots of fees went into that $30, I think it was like $13 per ticket).

Mostly, when I go to Baltimore and there is a game going on, I can walk up that day and buy tickets, get good seats, cheap.  Is it indicative of the fan base?  Maybe.  But I definitely think that local economic factors in “smaller markets” account for this too.

The third is, again the irony calling out the Baltimore Orioles fan base in general.  The AL East, save the Yankees and MAYBE the Red Sox, never sell out their games.  And even those two teams don’t come close to it most nights (maybe the Sox do because their stadium is so small, therefore fewer seats to fill).

I was in Toronto in May, and there were tons of fans dressed as empty seats.  In fact, Rogers Centre was a barn.  You could not fill it up, and they actually closed off some sections.  I believe though, that they might have raised prices on tickets there to account for the lack of seats that were there.  I don’t think they can do that…but I feel like my upper deck ticket was really high.

Look at the Tampa Bay Rays, who have actually been a good team for the past four years, couldn’t sell out a game to save their lives, then they became good.  THEY COULD NOT GET PEOPLE TO COME TO THEIR GAMES OR THE PLAYOFFS.

You know what I saw last night at Camden Yards?  I saw passion.  I saw excitement.  I saw people who now had a reason to go to the games.  Not complaining that Peter Angelos was running the team into the ground, and they’d never compete again.  I remember reading an article a few weeks ago about how the fans were not coming to the games, but viewership was at an all-time high for MASN (the local sports network in that region).  I don’t think that’s bandwagon-ism, it’s more of a “Hey, I can justify putting my discretionary income into these games now.”

The first game was a clusterfuck for sure.  I heard that Orioles fans were leaving when the game was still close.  In a close game, in the playoffs, that’s a total party foul.  I can’t say that I blame them though.  I’m not one to leave a game early unless I’m ill or something, but you know, it was cold Sunday night.  Some people had to work the next day.

What got me though is that Orioles fans are not the only folks to do such a thing.  I remember in 2010 fans leaving the Yankees/Rangers series at Yankee Stadium.  I talked to a coworker then who admitted he left early.  When I gave him “the look,” he said, “Look, judge me all you want, but I have kids.  I need to be in the office at 8 A.M.  It was close to midnight.  They were losing.  I had to pick up my car in Jersey City.  I wanted to go home.”  I guess, you know, he wasn’t banking on a comeback, but hey, he had a point.

What I’m saying is….these things happen.

In the past year and change, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some great fans from other fan bases, something I can say would have never happened without the advent of social media.  And mostly, I find it intriguing to watch because I am a Mets fan and they sucked all year.  Then there’s my friends from the Washington Nationals fan base that I’m really happy for, because they’re so much fun to watch getting excited over their team.  Prior to this year, it was an easy ticket to get (do I need to bring up how the Nationals ticket people openly recruited Phillies fans to come to their games?).  Do I think these people are bandwagoners?  Absolutely not.

Last year, I went to a “meaningless” game in September at Camden Yards, and met the two fans pictured above.  The woman, “Stretch Lady,” made it a point to go to all 81 home games last year.  Let that one sink in.  The gentleman, who writes for 2131 and Beyond, follows the Orioles around like I follow the Mets around.  Are they exceptions to the rule?  Hardly.

I watched with glee as the Orioles took out the Red Sox in Game 162.  Nothing against the Red Sox.  I know a lot of their fans too.  But because my misconceptions about Orioles were cleared up, I found that this team had scrap.  And it carried over into this season, surprising many.

I could point out that Phillies fans had nothing to cheer for prior to 2008, and were merely distracted from their Eagles watching with a decent few years from the baseball team.  Now those fans are not showing up to games.   Then again, that’s a bad example because save maybe Flyers fans, Philadelphia sports fans are probably the most fickle in all of sports.

I make it a point to not actively root for teams during the playoffs.  Honestly, I don’t like the stress that goes along with it.   But I do like watching from an objective point of view.  And my objectivity makes it clear that those who are pointing the amount of bandwagon jumpers in these particular playoffs have no fucking room to make that judgment.

To prove my point, The 7 Line found this shirt today, made by Majestic. 

A shirt that is an official shirt maker for MLB.

His response was, “The bandwagon will love that.”

I got some defensive responses from some of the Yankee fan base the other night, when I commented about those who come out to roost during the playoffs.  “That’s not true!” they say.  “They’re just as passionate as other fan bases,” they say.  But…what about those people I see who never wear a stitch of Yankee clothing during the regular season, never make a comment about going to a game, watching a game, never make a peep about a good pitching performance from CC Sabathia, or make a comment about how they don’t like A-Rod (trust me: real Yankee fans DO NOT like A-Rod).

Guess when they show up and won’t shut the fuck up?

I’ll give you a hint: It’s a month that begins with “O.”

I’m not saying that none of these fans aren’t bandwagoners.  Clearly, every fan base has them.  I’ve seen plenty infiltrate my team.

But to say the experience is somehow “less than” or that your team’s fans are better because they’ve been to the playoffs 100 years in a row and can’t get rid of these lunatic fringe element that goes and starts shit, well congratulations.

You’re a Holier-than-Thou fan.

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The Greatest Game(s) Ever Played

I usually get all warm and mushy for the last game of the season.  This year was weird.  Typically, the baseball season ends on a Sunday, and I get all weepy and nostalgic the last weekend.  Since the Mets’ season ended on a Wednesday, the last weekend didn’t hold the same feelings of sadness and longing as in previous years.

The Mets finished their season around 3:30 pm on Wednesday.  Little did I know, that the last day of baseball had yet to begin.

The greatest thing about baseball are the different subthemes in each game.  Every game has a story.  This year, we had four stories to watch.  The starring roles were to be played by: the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees; the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox; the St. Louis Cardinals and the Houston Astros; and the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves.

To say that this Mets fan had a vested interest in these games was an understatement.  I have a thing for the Red Sox, as in the “enemy of the enemy is my friend,” etc etc.  Although I have to say, I wouldn’t have minded them not making the playoffs; after all, they were pretty much anointed the World Series Champs with the signing of Carl Crawford in the offseason and trading for Adrian Gonzalez.  I like the Orioles too; I had just spent a day at Camden Yards with a Yankee fan that we called the “Bird Bowl” (as the Blue Jays were their opponent), and she even chronicled that trip in this column (follow Amanda on Twitter @amandarykoff…she is a good Yankee fan and super cool).

 

I also happened to fall in love with Robert Andino that day…they have this great mid-inning entertainment clip called “Andino at the Movies,” where he regales us with movie reviews.  Trust me, it’s comedy in its highest form.

Did I like the way the Yankees just laid down for the Rays?  No.  But I did like the Rays’ team (although they were eliminated from their amazing late-season run earlier today).  I certainly would have liked them to make the Wild Card over the Red Sox, but I guess that’s because the Sox have become a more “moneyball” version of the Yanks (which I guess makes no sense, but I guess if you follow baseball, you get it).

I certainly wanted to see the Cardinals make the postseason over the Braves.  Which meant a win by the Cards and a loss by the Braves.

There was something else eating at me too here.  The fact that if the Sox and the Braves both lost their playoff bids, this would mean I wouldn’t have to hear about the Mets “choking” in September anymore.  I mean, talk about losing their playoff bid on the last day of the season.

Yet, I couldn’t even script how Game 162 would end for these teams.  I thought for sure we’d see some Game 163s going on.  No, these teams decided to take care of business the traditional way: backs against the wall and no shortage of drama.

At the beginning of the day, I’d thought the only dramatic thing I’d be watching was whether Ryan Braun would go 3-for-4 and Jose Reyes’ bunt single in his only at-bat on Wednesday would be for naught.  For Mets fans who wanted something cheer, we got it, and Braun was a non-entity. But hey, his team had already been decided to go to the playoffs, plus he’s almost as close to a lock for MVP if there ever was one.

On a night like this, I can thank goodness for MLB Network.  This gave us the opportunity to keep tabs on all the results.  Since it was technically the last game of the season, I didn’t realize just how glued to my TV I would be.

I was.

I guess the easiest game of the night was the Cardinals.  They won, fair and square, and the only thing they had to do was wait for the Braves to win or lose.  Braves win, they’d play the next day.  Braves lose, Cards were going to play the Phillies in the NLDS.

The real drama occurred over the AL East though.  It looked like the Yankees forgot they were trying to do their part in trying to eliminate their Boston rivals.  Pretty soon though, Rays’ late inning heroics shined through, and they scored seven runs to tie the game up.  I thought for sure the Yankees were throwing meatballs to the Rays to will them to win.  Think what you want, but it was suspect they didn’t bring in their lights-out arms in the bullpen at this juncture.  Then again, the Yankees really didn’t have anything to play for except make Boston suffer.  I’d say they succeeded.

Then the unthinkable happened.  It might not have been that outlandish, but seeing Jonathan Papelbon blow another late inning save wasn’t that story.  It was the fact that Robert Andino is going to haunt Red Sox fans’ dreams (or nightmares).  My friend @2131 and Beyond (an Orioles focused blogger) calls this night “The Curse of the Andino.”  I hope he knows, I do plan to use that one.

I felt bad for friends like Sully, who is as die hard for Boston as they come.  I also know how much they irk Yankees fans.  But to me, the collapse was redemption for me, as a Mets fan, who has been the butt of so many jokes since 2007.  Kranepool Society said “It gets better” to Red Sox fans, but I disagree.  Things have gotten progressively worse for us Mets fans, but I can hope that since other teams have taken the pressure off, perhaps we can all move on.

Same for the Braves.  I think most Mets fans dislike Chipper Jones, but respect the hell out of him.  I know I do.  Some folks were upset that they wouldn’t play in another postseason.  Why, so they won’t make it out of the first round?  I think the Cardinals are certainly more worthy, they worked very hard to get there.

The best part was watching the Rays game unfold.  I said on Twitter that I was going to call it, that the Rays would win it right after the Red Sox lost.

And they did.  Evan Longoria continued to build up his rep with a walk-off home run.  I’d like to think they won that game on pure guts, but I’m pretty sure they were gifted that win.

But who cares?  You might have been able to script these games the way we wanted to, or you might not have.  The thing is, each team kept us guessing to the very end.  Some people might argue that there is nothing more dramatic than a Game 163 or a Game 7 situation.  I’d disagree.  Game 162 2011 version was potentially one of the best nights of baseball I have ever witnessed in my many decades as a fan.  I may recognize October heartbreak, I may not have seen my team win anything in recent years and be humiliated.  That does not mean I have not seen the best that this game can give me.

This is my song for the 2011 season.  The Mets may have not finished where I wanted them to…but I wouldn’t have wanted the season to finish any other way.